Are you tired of your orchard being a place where you work all the time? Instead of somewhere you enjoy spending time.

Do you dream of an enchanting place – like the stories you grew up with?

Where sheep and geese lazily graze. Birds, bees and beneficial insects are busy giving you a helping hand. Children hide, munching fruit in the long grass. Where you have time to relax, lying down, watching the dappled sunlight moving slowly through the trees…

THIS IS A TRUE STORY about a woman living in far-off north Queensland who dreamed of creating an orchard like this. Productive, while also an enchanting place.

However, rather than cultivating tranquillity, she seemed to be creating a workload for herself. Her time taken up with mowing, brush cutting, weeding, fertilising, mulching…

Well, that is until she took a good look at the approach she was using and decided to do things very differently.

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“First”, she thought, “I’ll tackle the grass”.

Even though she mulched her trees, rather than spraying herbicide, the grass kept invading her mulch.

And one day, while she was out brush cutting and mulching yet again, she noticed hoards of white roots under the mulch. White, delicate and innocent looking tentacles, grass roots sucking up the fertiliser she had put out for her trees.

“No wonder my trees are taking so long to grow!”

She sat in the grass, feeling very tired and a little despondent. With a distinct feeling of déjà vu – of having experienced battles like this before. She recalled how hard it had been to grow fruit trees on her farm further south in New South Wales.

“IT’S THE TROPICAL AFRICAN GRASSES,” she said to herself “It was the same on my other farm. The fruit trees struggled and took so long to grow. The grass was so determined to dominate everything.”

So one day – when it wasn’t too hot – she ventured out with round bales of mulch and plastic weed mat and rolled them down one of her orchard rows, burying the grass.

Once the grass was dead, she pulled out the weed mat from under the mulch, and gradually worked her way through the rest of her orchard, one row at a time.

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It felt wonderful, seeing the grass dead, starting to decompose and feed her soil organisms.

The fruit trees started growing with a vigour she could only have imagined, with healthy green leaves and fresh new growth.

Getting rid of the grass made such a difference

But then, she thought, “oh no I’ve given myself another huge job  –  mulching”.

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Mulching was hard work even with help of Marcus her heavy horse. Days were spent dripping with sweat, itching and getting covered with ants and dust.

That is until she had a ‘light bulb moment’ out bushwalking with friends, and absent-mindedly kicking the leaves on the forest floor.

“That’s the solution!”

“I’ll grow my own mulch like the forest – extra layers of vegetation between my fruit tress and ground cover plants as ‘living mulch’. The plants will produce mulch right where I need it, so I won’t need to mulch anymore! The money and time I’ll save.”

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“The plants will also protect my soil and give my soil organisms a better diet – organic matter plus the sugary secretions plants release from their roots.”

“Better fed, they can then get on with the job of recycling nutrients for my plants and improving my soil structure.”

“I’ll also use plants that are deep-rooted to bring up leached nutrients and de-compact my soil, legumes to increase nitrogen availability, and plants to attract beneficial insects and birds.”

She went to have a look at what her neighbours were growing under their fruit trees and spoke to the friendly folk at the Department of Agriculture. But, she didn’t get much help. Everyone was busy mulching…

So she took the time to research different living mulch plants and, not wanting to be overly ambitious, tried them out in a couple of orchard rows, before eventually growing living mulch throughout her orchard. wendylivingmulchcomp

Now she loves wandering through her orchard. No grass to mow, bare ground to mulch, and her soil visibly improving.

There’s always some fruit to pick, insects and birds to watch busily foraging in the dappled sunlight. And merely a little machete maintenance, planting and seeding here and there…

Why not develop the orchard of your dreams?

And use this ecological approach to transform other parts of your farm and garden.

As this story shows, there are simple practical things we can do to let Nature give us a helping hand.

By bringing back Nature’s free ecological services we have less work to do, save money, create food growing ecosystems better prepared for the challenges of climate change, and create places we love spending time in.

What’s important to remember

The actual tools you use will depend on your climate and other growing conditions. In this example, from our Learning from Nature demonstration site at Hill Top Farm, the competitive African grasses needed to be removed to enable other plants to grow. However, not all grass is as aggressive. Try spreading seed and planting  legumes and other ‘ecological support plants’ straight into your grass sward.

Start with small changes first. You’ll be inspired to keep growing…

 

Lead image Ryszard Filipowicz. Illustrations © Laura Quincy Jones lauraquincyjones.com. Photos of Wendy – Richard Szczerba. Thanks also to Dianne Keller for sharing the art of ‘storytelling’.